Ian Johnson

Nota: Este archivo abarca los artículos publicados por el autor desde el 1 de enero de 2008. Para fechas anteriores realice una búsqueda entrecomillando su nombre.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, second from right, during the opening session of U.S.-China talks in Anchorage on Thursday. The meeting, full of blunt remarks and harsh exchanges, fell short of even the low expectations that had been set for it. Credit Pool photo by Frederic J. Brown

Since taking office nearly two months ago, the Biden administration has been a whirlwind of activity in reforming and revisiting almost every key problem area but one: the chaotic and incoherent China policy it inherited from the Trump administration.

Top U.S. and Chinese officials met Thursday in Alaska for the first time since the new administration took power. The meeting, framed as little more than a chance for each side to state their well-known positions, fell short of even those low expectations.

In a series of blunt remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that the U.S. government had “deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States and economic coercion toward our allies” — actions, he said, that “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu/Getty Images Actors from the People’s Art Theater of Wuhan performing in a drama about medical staff fighting Covid-19 in Wuhan, September 2020

On January 31 I received a knock at the door of my Beijing apartment. It was the manager of lease renewals clutching a stack of flyers.

“Mr. Zhang, you’re feeling well?” she asked, using my Chinese surname.

“No fever yet.”

She laughed—foreigners and their comments.

“I know you don’t have the illness, but we want everyone to be safe. Here.” She handed me two copies of the flyer, one in Chinese and the other in English.

They were written by the Beijing municipal government and offered practical tips on how to protect oneself from the coronavirus. It had been eight days since the city of Wuhan had gone into full lockdown and seven since Beijing and other cities across China had declared a public health emergency.…  Seguir leyendo »

Soon after I was informed in mid-March that my journalist visa for China had been canceled, I faced a dilemma: what to do with my collection of wooden staffs used in a style of Chinese martial arts that I had been practicing for nearly 10 years.

Should I give them back to my master, an affable 40-year-old bus driver and inheritor of the practice, who had made it his life’s work to revive the stick fighting that had once been so common in Beijing’s working-class neighborhoods? Or should I have the movers ship them to London, where I would now be living?…  Seguir leyendo »

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images A Chinese man and a child wearing protective masks on a bike, Beijing, China, March 27, 2020

BEROWRA CREEK, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 was a terrible year for Australia, and in such dark times, humor helps us cope. The triple-whammy began with an apocalypse of smoke and fire. Megafires that created their own weather converged to become the most extensive conflagration ever recorded on any continent, destroying 20 percent of the nation’s forested land. They were finally extinguished in February—by deadly flooding. Then, as the floodwaters were still receding, the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.

I’m not a great reader of the Old Testament, but after our three plagues, I consulted Exodus on the nature of the fourth disaster inflicted on the ancient Egyptians.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman offers joss sticks and prayers at the Lama Temple in central Beijing, a place of worship very popular with locals praying for wealth and good health.Credit...Sim Chi Yin/Magnum Photos

In the northern suburbs of this city is a small temple to a Chinese folk deity, Lord Guan, a famous warrior deified more than a millennium ago. Renovated five years ago at the government’s expense, the temple is used by a group of retirees who run pilgrimages to a holy mountain, schoolchildren who come to learn traditional culture and a Taoist priest who preaches to wealthy urbanites about the traditional values of ancient China.

Perched atop a hillock overlooking the sprawling capital, the temple is a microcosm of a new civil religion taking shape in China — an effort by the Chinese Communist Party to satisfy Chinese people’s search for moral guidelines by supplementing the largely irrelevant ideology of communism with a curated version of the past.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chris McGrath/Getty Images Police watching as people formed a line at a polling station to vote in district council elections, Hong Kong, November 24, 2019

For nearly six months, people around the world have watched the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong with one question in the back of their minds: When will Beijing lose patience and the repression begin? Journalists expecting to cover Tiananmen II flew in for the most promising global story of the year, its allure bolstered by the protesters’ ability to speak English and the easily digestible narrative of David vs. Goliath, democracy vs. authoritarianism, right vs. might.

This perspective was reflected in coverage of this past weekend’s district council elections. Although these usually hinge on intensely local issues, they were pegged as a chance for voters to give a verdict on the protests.…  Seguir leyendo »

CHINA. Beijing. Tiananmen Square. 1989.

Something strange is happening in Xi Jinping’s China. This is supposed to be the perfect dictatorship, the most sustained period of authoritarianism since the Cultural Revolution ended more than forty years ago, a period of such damning disappointment that all but the regime’s most acquiescent apologists have become cynics or critics. And yet the past few months have also seen something potentially more interesting: the most serious critique of the system in more than a decade, led by people inside China who are choosing to speak out now, during the most sensitive season of the most sensitive year in decades.

The movement started quietly enough, with several brilliant essays written by a Chinese academic that drew an attack from his university bosses, which in turn stirred a backlash among Chinese public intellectuals.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ian Johnson. A street memorial to Ján Kuciak, Bratislava, Slovakia, December 6, 2018

Thirty miles northeast of the Slovakian capital Bratislava is Veľká Mača, a village-turned-bedroom-community of tightly packed bungalows fanning out from a big Catholic church, a small supermarket, and a smoky pub. In winter, the surrounding fields are dusted with snow, some planted with wheat but many now filled with hangar-like logistic centers for Amazon, DHL, and other markers of economic change.

Nearly a year ago, hired killers drove into this quiet town, broke into a small prefabricated bungalow, and shot dead two young people: the investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, an archaeologist at a local research institute.…  Seguir leyendo »

KASGHAR CITY, KASHGAR, XINJIANG, CHINA - 2017/07/08: A Uyghur woman walks pass a statue of Mao Zedong in the People's Park in Kashgar city, northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China. Kashgar is located in the north western part of Xinjiang province where nearly 10 million Muslim Uyghurs are living. It is considered as the crossroads linking China to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, the city has changed under Chinese rule with government development, unofficial Han Chinese settlement to the western province, and restrictions imposed by the Communist Party. The central government of China says it sees Kashgar's development as an improvement to the local economy, but many Uyghurs consider it a threat that is eroding their language, traditions, and cultural identity. The discord has created a separatist movement that has sometimes turned violent, starting a crackdown on what Chinese government see as 'terrorist acts' by religious extremists. Tension has increased with lot more security in the city including restrictions at mosques, after closing and removing most of them in the Xinjiang province, the Chinese authorities have also restricted to the women to wear veils and the young men to grow beards. (Photo by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Last month, I spent several days at the Forbidden City, the gargantuan palace in the middle of Beijing where China’s emperors ruled the land for nearly five hundred years. I was there to attend a conference on religion and power in imperial China, but my thoughts were drawn to more contemporary concerns: the plight of the Uighurs in China’s far western province of Xinjiang, including re-education camps aimed at breaking their faith in Islam.

I was struck by parallels between contemporary and imperial religious policy at the end of the conference, when our hosts took us to parts of the complex that are off-limits to tourists, such as the Hall of Imperial Peace.…  Seguir leyendo »

VCG/VCG via Getty Images Ruins from one of the most significant earthquakes in Chinese history, pictured a month before the tenth anniversary of the earthquake, Beichuan county, Mianyang, Sichuan, China, April 5, 2018

The province of Sichuan is a microcosm of China. Its east is flat, prosperous, and densely settled by ethnic Chinese. Its mountainous west is populated by poorer minorities, but possesses resources that help make the east rich.

In Sichuan, the highlands’ bounty is water and silt, which rush down from the Tibetan Plateau to the plains below through an ingenious set of irrigation waterworks at the town of Dujiangyan. Soon after this system was built, some 2,300 years ago, the intensive agriculture that it made possible turned the region into one of China’s economic dynamos, producing so much wealth that it helped the first emperor of China consolidate numerous fragmented states into one powerful realm.…  Seguir leyendo »

Jason Lee/Reuters Sculptures of Mao Zedong in front of a souvenir plate with a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Tiananmen Square, Beijing, March 1, 2018

For nearly sixty years since it opened in 1959, the Great Hall of the People has been the public focus of Chinese politics, a monumental granite block that extends 1,200 feet along the west side of Tiananmen Square. It is where the country’s leaders appear in public to display their power: a platform for state banquets, receptions of foreign dignitaries, and symbolic political meetings. It is their throne room, their sacred space. It is the outward manifestation of decisions made in other, darker realms.

That setting made it hard to avoid the imperial parallels in Sunday’s vote to allow Xi Jinping to serve as China’s leader indefinitely.…  Seguir leyendo »

Chairman Mao attending a military review in Beijing, China, 1967

In these pages nearly seven years ago, Timothy Snyder asked the provocative question: Who killed more, Hitler or Stalin? As useful as that exercise in moral rigor was, some think the question itself might have been slightly off. Instead, it should have included a third tyrant of the twentieth century, Chairman Mao. And not just that, but that Mao should have been the hands-down winner, with his ledger easily trumping the European dictators’.

While these questions can devolve into morbid pedantry, they raise moral questions that deserve a fresh look, especially as these months mark the sixtieth anniversary of the launch of Mao’s most infamous experiment in social engineering, the Great Leap Forward.…  Seguir leyendo »

AP Video via AP Images. Liu Xiaobo at a park in Beijing, July 24, 2008

For gentlemen of purpose and men of benevolence, while it is inconceivable that they should seek to stay alive at the expense of benevolence, it may happen that they have to accept death in order to have benevolence accomplished. —Confucius, Analects

In 1898, some of China’s most brilliant minds allied themselves with the Emperor Guangxu, a young ruler who was trying to assert himself by forcing through reforms to open up China’s political, economic, and educational systems. But opponents quickly struck back, deposing the emperor and causing his advisors to flee for their lives.

One, however, stayed put. He was Tan Sitong, a young scholar from a far-off corner of the empire.…  Seguir leyendo »

A building covered in posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Shanghai, China, March 26, 2016

Politics is always about pomp and pageantry, but as pure, stultifying ritual few occasions can compare to the convening of the Chinese parliament, the National People’s Congress, which ended this week. No matter what is happening in China or the world, it always follows the same eye-glazing program—a “work report” that summarizes already-known plans; questionable proposals that are discussed to make it seem that a deliberative body is convening; gatherings of delegations that are unelected and largely powerless; and finally a press conference that is as real as a fight in a kung-fu movie.

And yet this performance is never without meaning.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hundreds of crosses have been removed from churches and buildings across China.

How bad is religious persecution in China?

This is a question I've thought a lot about over the past few years. Since 2010 I've been working on a project documenting a religious revival in China, and seen new churches, temples, and mosques open each year, attracting millions of new worshipers.

But I've also seen how religion is tightly proscribed.

Only five religious groups are allowed to exist in China: Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism. The government controls the appointment of major religious figures, and decides where places of worship can be built. It tries to influence theology and limits contacts overseas.…  Seguir leyendo »

Dao County, China, 2016. Sim Chi Yin/VII

Tan Hecheng might seem an unlikely person to expose one of the most shocking crimes of the Chinese Communist Party. A congenial sixty-seven-year-old who spent most of his life in southern Hunan province away from the seats of power, Tan is no dissident. In fact, he has spent his career working for official state media and trying to believe in Communism.

But in a meticulously detailed five-hundred-page book released in English this week, he lays out in devastating detail one of the darkest, and least known, episodes in Communist Chinese history: the mass murder of nine thousand Chinese citizens by explicit order of regional Party officials during the height of the Cultural Revolution.…  Seguir leyendo »

Hu Fayun in Wuhan, 2016 / Sim Chi Yin/VII

Over the summer I traveled to Wuhan to continue my series of talks with people about the challenges facing China. Coming here was part of an effort to break out of the black hole of Beijing politics and explore the view from China’s vast hinterland.

Wuhan seemed a logical place to start because it is one of the country’s great inland port cities—it has a population of more than 8 million and is a gateway to the interior. A conglomeration of what were once three cities, Wuhan is at the intersection of two of China’s most important rivers, the Yangtze and the Han.…  Seguir leyendo »

The People in Retreat An Interview with Ai Xiaoming

Ai Xiaoming is one of China’s leading documentary filmmakers and political activists. Since 2004, she has made more than two dozen films, many of them long, gritty documentaries that detail citizen activism or uncover whitewashed historical events. Among them are Taishi Village, which recounts the efforts of farmers to remove a corrupt party secretary; The Epic of the Central Plains, which tells the story of an AIDS village in Henan province; a five-part series on the 2008 Beichuan Earthquake that focuses on the efforts of activist Tan Zuoren; and, most recently, a five-part documentary on Jiabiangou—a labor camp for political prisoners where thousands died of famine in the Great Leap Forward.…  Seguir leyendo »

Every Olympics seems to bring with it a doping scandal, and the Rio games are no different. Well before Friday’s opening ceremonies, state-sponsored doping in Russia, widespread doping on the Chinese swim team, and questions about a Rio drug-testing lab have renewed worries about whether a “clean” Olympics will ever be possible.

It might be tempting to throw up one’s hands and see these revelations as nothing more than the latest in a series of sordid stories about athletes seeking an edge. After all, pro sports from cycling to baseball are rife with similar tales of performance-enhancing substances. But the recent Olympic doping scandals are symptomatic of something more significant: the return of semi-rogue countries determined to bypass international norms and conventions in a systematic way not seen since the cold war.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man in Jingshan Park, overlooking the Forbidden City, Beijing, China, December 8, 2015

I am a member of a martial arts group that performs at annual temple fairs around Beijing. Half of our group are children, and almost without fail they meet at a park on the west side of town at around three in the afternoon to practice fighting with staffs with our teacher, a bear-like thirty-seven-year-old bus driver named Mr. Zhao. His personal motto: “Life is but a dream; keep smiling all the time.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Zhao wasn’t smiling. Around two, one of the children sent out a message on China’s most popular social media site, WeChat, asking if anyone was going to the park.…  Seguir leyendo »